New teacher testing on horizon
When Ohio’s new teacher-evaluation system kicks in starting next year, teacher Tammy Schmidt may be joining her third-grade students in preparing scrapbooks of their classroom accomplishments.
Teacher portfolios, which could include lesson plans, student work, photographs and videos, are among the tools that states are considering as a way to better rate educators and to meet the conditions for federal funding. Other approaches being developed and tested across the nation may include parent reviews, student surveys, classroom observations and student-growth measures including standardized test scores.
Teachers with consecutive poor ratings first will get help, and then could lose their tenure. Teachers who consistently excel would be evaluated less frequently.
The push for reform has emerged from a growing bipartisan consensus — joined by the Obama administration — that the old advancement model based on tenure and seniority wasn’t always working, with union-negotiated agreements viewed as sometimes protecting bad teachers or blocking opportunities for young talent.
Tim Melton, legislative director for the education reform group StudentsFirst, said parents and teachers alike had become frustrated with evaluations that ranged from lackluster to nonexistent.
“The biggest factor in school by far is an effective teacher in the classroom,” he said. “Everyone in the building knows who those people are. The difference now is there is a lot of robust data to show how things are going. The question is, once you have it, what are you going to do with it?”
Most states pledged to establish new teacher- and principal-evaluation systems to gain points on their applications for the Obama administration’s Race to the Top grants. States that wanted a waiver from some of the No Child Left Behind law’s requirements also had to pursue certain policies, including basing teacher evaluations in part on student achievement.
But measuring good teaching isn’t easy — particularly when nearly 8 in 10 public-school educators nationwide don’t teach subjects measured using standardized tests.
In Ohio, Schmidt, who teaches in the Columbus suburb of Hilliard, is one of nearly 109,000 teachers statewide who will fall under new teacher evaluation criteria that kick in next July.
The evaluation system the state is developing will base half a teacher’s rating on student growth, measured through test scores and other criteria; the other half will be based on teacher performance, as measured by more- frequent classroom observations, among other things.
Schmidt said her district doesn’t currently plan to use student surveys as evaluation tools, but she has a hard time imagining how that would look for other educators of 8-year-olds.
“As teachers, we respond to student feedback on a constant basis,” Schmidt said. “It’s that look on their face like, ‘Oh my gosh, I have no idea what you’re talking about,’ to, are they engaged in this unit or are they daydreaming?”
She said parent feedback — another tool Ohio districts are weighing whether to use — could be just as variable, with those unhappy with a child’s poor grade or a teacher’s demeanor potentially turning in low marks.
James Martinez, a spokesman for the National Parent-Teacher Association, said it’s valid nonetheless.
Michele Wimship, an education-reform consultant to the Ohio Education Association teachers union, said decisions on how Ohio’s evaluation system will look is being delegated to local school boards. She fears that will produce a patchwork of approaches for different types of teachers across the state.